'We're still here': Real Madrid survival instincts pulling them towards glory

AFP , Thursday 18 Apr 2024

Off the pace in the Champions League and the Spanish top flight last season, Real Madrid have bounced back strongly to give themselves a strong shot at securing both.

Real Madrid
Real Madrid players celebrate victory in front of their fans during the Champions League quarterfinal second leg football match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Photo: AP


Carlo Ancelotti's side beat reigning European champions Manchester City on penalties on Wednesday to reach the semi-finals, they also boast a commanding eight-point lead on Barcelona in La Liga ahead of the Clasico on Sunday.

With the Los Blancos hopeful of tying up the signing of long-term target Kylian Mbappe. the weeks ahead promise to be exciting.

Madrid's resilience in Manchester as Pep Guardiola's side dominated the 1-1 draw (4-4 on aggregate), means they can extend their record 14 Champions League triumphs, with Bayern Munich beckoning in the semi-finals.

Amid Barcelona's euphoria at the end of last season as they conquered La Liga, Madrid surveyed their weaknesses and acted to overcome them.

They moved for Jude Bellingham, adding steel to a team which was dismantled by Manchester City in last season's Champions League semi-finals.

The England international has replaced striker Karim Benzema in the line-up and, although deployed in an attacking role by Ancelotti, gives Madrid more defensive balance when out of possession.

This season the story was different at the Etihad Stadium, with Madrid digging deep and holding firm to force penalties and make the final four.

"We showed the attitude and commitment demanded by this jersey," said Ancelotti.

"This is a very special competition for us and we always deliver something that people are not expecting us to produce.

"Everyone was writing us off but we're still here."

'Full of heroes'

In La Liga, Madrid are poised to wrest the title from their arch-rivals. They can virtually sew it up this weekend in the Clasico.

Second-place Barcelona visit the Santiago Bernabeu after being dumped out of the Champions League by PSG on Tuesday.

"We're delighted, but we're very tired -- now we have to celebrate because it's a very important qualification," continued Ancelotti.

"From tomorrow we have to prepare well for Sunday's game, the Clasico is crucial for the league."

Barcelona lifted the Spanish title last season on the basis of their strong backline, and while their defence has become more porous, Madrid's is now the best in Spain.

Without injured first-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Ancelotti has put his faith in Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.

It was repaid on Wednesday night when Lunin saved Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic's penalties.

"I'm not the hero ... the team is full of heroes," said Lunin.

"Everyone did a great job, running and fighting for 120 minutes."

That backbone gives Madrid what captain Nacho Fernandez called "a different side" of themselves, enabling them to overturn the gaps their biggest rivals exploited last season.

While the likes of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo have the skill and thrust Madrid fans want to see in attack, the team's survival instincts are also pulling them towards a potential fifth La Liga and Champions League double.

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